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Sep 02

The Church, Real Estate Costs, and Revival

Posted by: Steve Marr

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A number of times I have thought about the real estate costs for local churches. Often when you examine the total cost of a church’s real estate including the capital cost of the building, renovation, updating, mortgage payments, heating, cooling and other associated expenses; the building will consume a significant amount of a local church budget.


I understand the perspective of many that a church building is critical to carry out the mission of the local church. The building houses offices, teaching rooms and other facilities used at different times during the week. However, the church building is a vastly underused asset during much of the week.

We know from reading the book of Acts that the early church met in homes. This was largely by necessity due to persecution. Unfortunately it is true around much of the world today where the church is forced underground. The Pew Research Center estimates that as many as 5% of the Chinese people are Christians. Many of them attend home churches of one kind or another. This would represent 70 million people.

Historically, most Americans lived on farms. A church member would donate a small piece of land and committed members would donate materials and time to build the church. The cost was frequently not that high. On Sundays the families would gather for morning worship and bring a picnic lunch with extras to share with others.  After a leisurely afternoon they would return to the church for an evening service before going home. This was a key part of the social and spiritual fabric of a farming community.

With the movement of people to cities, real estate became costly.  Over time most city dwellers were either wealthy or poor. The middle-class moved further out of the central city into suburbs. Land became increasingly expensive, especially if you wanted to plant a church in New York City, Los Angeles or other large cities around the world. Good personal budgeting allocates no more than 25% of income to the cost of mortgaging and maintaining a house. Likewise churches need to work through what is an appropriate allocation of income to support a church building.

Frequently the church will ask, “Where do we locate the church building for worship?” An interesting follow-up question is, “When do we worship?” A typical paradigm says that we should worship at 10:00, 10:30 or 11 o’clock in the morning on Sunday. If we hold to this paradigm, where do we place new converts we say we want who come into the church from a secular culture? Large churches may hold many services on Sunday and during the week. Going to two or three services seems to take care of overcrowding the pews for some churches.

If we are able to change the perception that church should meet only at a specific time on Sunday morning, we could share the church building with others who meet at alternative times. I know a number of instances where this happens now, but it’s generally where the congregation has little money, a small group, and few options for worship times. They may accept a time of 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon not by preference but because it’s when they can secure the building. In most instances when a congregation grows larger and funding increases; they seek to move out of their temporary quarters, get their own building, and revert to a more traditional worship time.

In many locations, the free market has increased the cost of maintaining a traditional church building substantially. As church planners and planters look at the future, my perspective is that we need to rethink how we utilize and acquire church buildings. Are we willing to attend church at 2 o’clock on Sunday or another time outside our convenience? Do we insist on church services on our terms?

The larger question is whether we’re praying for revival in our nation and how we will respond if the Lord graciously grants us revival? How will our church handle a doubling or tripling of attendance? The transformation of our nation will occur only through the Lord.

The Lord spoke to the people and said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV) I believe that a true revival will require those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior to humble themselves, turn from sin and seek the Lord with their whole heart. Then, God will begin the work that only He can do to heal the land.

The next step is to seek revival in our land were multitudes come to Christ. Part of the church’s challenge as we pray for this revival is how do we handle new believers that will become our spiritual responsibility? We need to figure out how to deal with real estate issues and how to structure the church in the future to minister to these new converts effectively. I believe that the Lord will likely hold back a full revival until the church effectively addresses how to handle an influx of new believers. My hope and prayer is that no church will be pleased with membership gains of 5%-10%. They will want to see doubling, tripling or quadrupling of church attendance. Then the church will exert its proper role in society and be a tool for God to use to transform our nation and bring her back to God.

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